Darius I
Relief of Darius I (Iran)

Darius I
(c 550 BC - 486 BC)

Persian King who Expanded the Empire

The Life of Darius I

Darius I (or Darrioush or Darayarahush - the name means "He who holds firm the good" in Old Persian) belonged to the same family as Cyrus The Great. He was born around 550 BC to Hystaspes, a warrior in Cyrus's war in Egypt.

In 552 BC, Cambyses, the son of Cyrus and king of Persia, died without leaving an heir. The extended family fought each other in a civil war lasting two years. Darius became king of Persia after killing Gaumata who had usurped the throne. Gaumata had had support and parts of the Empire revolted (especially in Babylon and Elam). Darius put down the rebellions.

The new ruler was tolerant of other religions and cultures within the Empire. The realm was divided into 23 provinces each with a satrap (governor) and with considerable autonomy in cultural and religious matters. Jews were allowed to build a temple in Jerusalem (completed 515 BC). Many temples were bult in Egypt with his name inscribed on them. Greek oracles were given tax free status. He himself was a follwer of Zoroastrinism.

Darius reconstructed the old highways adding caravanserais (inns) for travellers to rest and change their horses. Government officials were issued with passports to allow them free passage and food along the way. The road system and the introduction of coinage (invented in Lydia - modern Turkey) improved trade. Graneries were also built close to the roads for military purposes.

Under Darius, learning was promoted and the calendar was reformed with the help of astronomers from Babylon. The Babylonian Calendar is still used by Jews for festivals and rituals.

Grand cities and palaces were built at Susa and Persepolis (or Parsa, modern southern Iran) which became the new capital in 514 BC.

The Palace of Darius at Persepolis (Iran)
The Palace of Darius at Persepolis (Iran)

Darius married three times. His first wife, Atossa, was a daughter of Cyrus. She gave birth to four sons, one of whom (Xerxes) succeeded his father to the throne.

Under Darius, the Persian Empire expanded eastwards to include parts of India (a source of gold and sugar cane), northwards into Central Asia and westwards to Asia Minor (modern Turkey). His contact with Greece was the first incursion by Persia into Europe. He is known to have travelled to the River Danube and crossed into what is now Romania. In Egypt (which Darius visited on several occasions), a canal was built linking the River Nile to the Red Sea. Expeditions were sent to explore the Indian Ocean.

In 490 BC, Persia under Darius lost a battle to the Greeks at a place called Marathon. The story is that one of the Greek messengers ran all the way to the capital, Athens, with the news and promptly died. The distance and the place became immortalised in the name of an Olympic race.

Darius was never to visit Europe again as he died in 486 BC (between 17 November and 1 December), leaving the Perisan Empire at its greatest extent. The institutions and bureaucracy of the Empire survived even under later Macedonian rule and influenced the Greeks.

Much of his life and battles are written in an inscription of a cliff facing one of the realm's main highways at Behistun. It is written in Old Persian, Assyrian, and Elam. It played an important role in deciphering Babylonian cuneiform.

His tomb, carved from a cliff face, can still be visited close to the Iranian city of Shiraz. It contains an inscription about his life. This is part of it:

"Ahuramazda, when he saw this earth in commotion, thereafter bestowed it upon me, made me king; I am king.
By the favor of Ahuramazda I put it down in its place; what I said to them [my subjects], that they did, as was my desire.

If now you shall think that "How many are the countries which King Darius held?"
look at the sculptures of those who bear the throne,
then shall you know, then shall it become known to you: the spear of a Persian man has gone forth far;
then shall it become known to you: a Persian man has delivered battle far indeed from Persia."

The Tomb of Darius I
The Tomb of Darius I in southern Iran

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KryssTal Related Pages

Inventions from the period that includes the period of the Persian Empire.

These are words found in English from Avistan, the ancient language of the Persian Empire.

Biography of the first great king of Persia.

Religious founder of Zoroastrianism.

External Darius I Links

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Darius I
A detailed biopgraphy of Darius I and his campaigns.

Darius The Great
A brief biopgraphy of Darius I.

Persian Influence on Greece
Many of the innovations of Darius I influenced the Greeks.